Surreal Thai film wins Cannes gold for Asia

24th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

A surreal tale of the afterlife with giant monkeys and an erotic catfish scored gold for Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul at the Cannes film festival on Sunday, in a rare win for Asia.

"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" took Cannes' top award, the Palme d'Or, at the prizegiving which also saw Spaniard Javier Bardem and France's Juliette Binoche add Cannes acting awards to their Oscars.

It was only the sixth Asian film to win the top prize at Cannes in seven decades of the festival, and the first for more than 10 years. Five Asian entries competed for the Palme this year.

Against rival entries about war, history, politics and realist family sagas, Apichatpong's film is a dreamy, timeless tale -- even though his own country is suffering high political drama.

The 39-year-old director said the award came at an important moment for Thailand, where long-running instability boiled over into deadly street violence in recent weeks.

"I'd like to send a message home: the prize is for you," he said as he received the Palme from the head of the festival jury, US film-maker Tim Burton, who is likewise known for his fantastical storylines.

Bardem, who plays a good-hearted terminally-ill hustler in "Biutiful" by Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, shared the best actor award with Italy's Elio Germano, star of gritty social drama "Our Life".

Binoche was named best actress for her role as an unhappy art dealer in "Certified Copy" by Iran's Abbas Kiarostami.

Apichatpong was an unexpected winner after critics tipped French director Xavier Beauvois, who took the runner-up Grand Prix for "Of Gods and Men", about Catholic monks threatened by Islamists in Algeria.

"This is like another world for me... this is surreal," the director said, thanking "the spirits and ghosts in Thailand" that watched over the film which he said took three and a half years to make.

The two-hour movie tells the story of a dying man, Boonmee, who meets spirits of the dead. Among the surprises, his son appears as a giant monkey and an old-world princess has watery sex with a talking catfish.

Asia won other Cannes honours on Saturday when South Korean director Hong Sang-soo's "Ha Ha Ha" scooped a coveted prize in a festival side-competition called Un Certain Regard.

South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong's "Poetry" was named best screenplay while Frenchman Mathieu Amalric won the best director prize for "On Tour", about a troupe of buxom American stripteasers touring French seaside towns.

Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun took the jury prize, a mark of special recognition alongside the main awards, for "A Screaming Man" -- the first movie from sub-Saharan Africa to run for the Palme in 13 years.

The prize-giving surprised many critics who tipped Britain's Mike Leigh for an award for his convincing family drama "Another Year".

Hundreds of celebrity-spotters lined the waterfront around the festival hall as the stars attended Sunday night's gala ceremony.

Critics pegged this edition of the world's biggest film fair as more low-key than usual, with fewer stars and hit movies, though Hollywood heavyweights such as Michael Douglas, Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett showed up.

Binoche hailed Kiarostami, who is regarded as one of the world's finest film-makers but whose work is little shown in his native country due to censorship by its hardline Islamic leaders.

Kiarostami's Palme entry was his first shot outside Iran -- a quiet film about a mysterious love affair in Italy.

Binoche brandished a sign with the name of another Iranian film-maker, Jafar Panahi, who was prevented from joining the festival jury. He is in jail in Tehran, accused of planning a film against the Islamic regime.

Germano, little-known outside Italy, won the joint acting prize for his performance in Daniele Luchetti's "Our Life", a gritty indictment of Italian society under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Last year's best actress, France's Charlotte Gainsbourg, starred in the last film of this year's festival -- "The Tree", a Franco-Australian movie directed by Julie Bertuccelli which closed the 12-day event.

© 2010 AFP

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